You know you’ve turned into an old-duffer Minnesotan when you find yourself sitting at the kitchen table on a snowy day, discussing the nasty winters of yore.
The conversation, windy with bragging rights, goes something like this:
“Oh, this winter’s nothing! Winter of 1965. Now that was a bad one.”
“Yeah, these kids nowadays are spoiled. Closing schools just because it’s cold. How ridiculous. They don’t know what a cold winter is. We had to walk to school when we were kids.”
OK, I plead guilty. I’m an old Minnesotan, but I’ve earned my bragging rights, having endured some of the worst winters in history.
And, trust me, 1965 was really as bad as we duffers claim. I was a junior at St. Cloud Tech High School. During that raging, brutal winter, I walked 10 blocks to and from school, an acutely painful trek. On the way, other students would join in at various intersections and walk along: Mark, Paul, Billy, twins Judy-Janey, Kay, Delores. The gals’ bare legs were covered only by their nylons. That sight made the howling winter mornings seem even colder. We did have a sweet respite, however – our “short cut.” We would walk, slowly like frozen zombies, through the main hall of our old grade school, Washington Elementary, which gave us a chance to warm up a wee bit before once again braving the Arctic blast that hit us full-force when we opened the school’s west doors.
On those frigid mornings, it took me two hours to thaw out once inside the school. My toes and ears felt as if a swarm of bees had stung them. There was a stabbing pain in the middle of my forehead worse than a raging headache. Fortunately, my soft-hearted parents would let us kids stay home when it was really, really cold – like 40-below zero with 30-mph winds.
Of the winter of 1965, my most vivid memories are of shoveling snow and more snow, doing homework late nights in my chilly bedroom while hearing winds shrieking at the frosty windows, of rushing downstairs in the morning to huddle around the toasty kerosene-burning stove. That winter, one of many blizzards literally covered our garage with a giant dune of wind-whipped snow.
I remember that winter with pain and pleasure – pleasure because the extreme cold and relentless snow drew so many friends and neighbors together in homes for happy sessions of board games, cards, jigsaw puzzles and rollicking conversations.
The worst winters happened always at mid-decade: 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995. An exception was 2005, which I recall as bearable.
In 1975, I woke up one morning to a front door that could not be opened because of a massive snow build-up on the other side of it.
In 1985, I was one of only two of 30 employees who made it to work at the Alexandria news office. I lived in a downtown apartment a block from work, but it took me 20 minutes to body-plow through snow up to my waist to get there. The downtown cityscape looked eerily like a lost civilization, with parts of some buildings peeking out of polar snowdrifts.
In the viciously cold winter of 1995, I had to rent a delivery box at the post office because, without access to a snowplow, there was no room left to hand-shovel the mountains of snow by my buried roadway mailbox and thus the carrier would not deliver there.
I will probably remember this miserable winter for having to roof-rake tons of snow off of my house, an exhausting job. Thank goodness for Richard the kind neighbor who came to the rescue and finished the job by getting on top of the roof, his snow shovel in hand. He’s an old-duffer, too, but he has the true grit of a Minnesota whippersnapper.
It would be fun someday, years hence, to sit around the table on some blizzard day and hear what today’s young-uns have to say about the long-ago winter of 2014. By then, they will have become dyed-in-the-wool old-duffer Minnesotans; they will have earned their bragging rights.